CHAGOS Islanders travelled from the UK to Holland yesterday to protest outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague to demand the right for them to return to their island, from which they were brutally evicted by the British rulers in the 1960s. Britain claims the Chagos Islands as part of its overseas territories.
All of the 1,500 islanders were deported so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US for a strategic airbase in 1971. The islanders have never been allowed to return home. The UK rulers allow the US to use Diego Garcia as a US nuclear military base because of its strategic position.
Mauritius has now challenged Britain’s claim to the islands at the International Court of Justice. Judgment from the UN-backed court, which specialises in territorial and border disputes between countries, will be advisory, rather than legally binding.
The court will consider two key questions: The first is whether the decolonisation of Mauritius was ‘completed lawfully’ when it was granted independence in 1968 following its separation from the Chagos archipelago. The second concerns the ability of Mauritius to resettle the Chagossians back on the islands, but not Diego Garcia.
Three years before Mauritius was granted independence, the UK decided to separate the Chagos Islands from the rest of its Indian Ocean colony. The Mauritius government claims this was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence.
Many deported Chagossians live in the UK. In July, they held a five-day protest in Trafalgar Square against their continued exile and their descendants’ uncertain immigration status in the UK.